Just last month, state and local law enforcement officials broke up a human trafficking and prostitution ring based in Clearwater, but the case just scratches the surface of the state's trafficking problems, Attorney General Pam Bondi said at a press conference Wednesday.
Bondi and FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey, flanked by other law enforcement leaders, said a search for new initiatives led to the development of a new, interactive video training program.
""It's becoming such a problem in our state," Bondi said. "We sat down and said 'What can we do together?' We've got to keep doing more, because what we're doing isn't enough. Everything we're doing -- it's still going on."
The U.S. Department of State estimates 27 million people are trafficked globally each year, and in 2011, Florida ranked third nationally in the number of calls the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline received (3,949) -- California came in first, Texas second.
Human smugglers are attracted to Florida’s agriculture and tourism industries, plus it's also a hub for runaways, Bailey said.
"Human trafficking is 21st century slavery," he said. "It primarily involves people being trafficked for commercial sex or labor by force, fraud or coercion."
The new two-hour online training program produced by FDLE is an optional course that will be used to train new recruits and as a refresher course. Human trafficking training has been a part of law enforcement education since 2006 but officers who didn't receive the training can take the course for credit toward employement training requirements.
"Human trafficking is a very specialized crime," Bondi said. "It's not a traditional criminal act that's easily detected. That's why it's so important to have special training for our law enformcent officers" so they can recognize signs that someone is being trafficked
One of the prime places to encounter trafficking victims, Bondi said, is at convenience stores, because traffickers have to fill up their cars at some point.
"It's going on all over our state," Bondi said, and referred to the Clearwater trafficking and prostitution ring "that was going on almost two years," involving 16 victims "in affluent neighborhoods and no one recognized this was going on."
Bondi also launched a program recently to involve the business community in spotting potential trafficking victims, particularly in industries like hospitality, restaurants, domestic work and farming.
Gov. Rick Scott last week signed into law two efforts to help trafficking victims -- one would allow victims to petition the court to expunge human trafficking-related arrests and convictions from their record and the other would allow the legal system to use out-of-court statements for victimes up to age 16.
The public can sign on to FDLE's new "Introduction to Human Trafficking” training at http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/Content/BPDtraining/HumanTrafficking/story.html